Coming at a time when Disney was desperate to reclaim its market share, the expensive project instantly bears the stamp of the 80s with its perfect opening shot, a dizzying plow through a geometric multi-layered cyber-landscape, predating The Fifth Element's multi-storied plunge through traffic. However, whenever humans appear it's a stillborn movie, and so the fact that this is probably the first Disney movie to acknowledge sex (the unresolved triangle of Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan; Bridges taunts Boxleitner with his knowledge of Morgan as a former lover, asking "Does she still leave her clothes all over the floor?") passes by because of the leaden quality of both dialogue and delivery. This is a movie that, amazingly enough, manages to shut down Jeff Bridges; it's a dour, humorless affair for the most part, and I'm not sure who's impressed by Lisberger's claims that the movie is packed with Jungian symbolism.
The final shot is a hi-speed city at night (a year before Koyaanisqatsi, incidentally), reducing all humanity to the interior of a computer, which is what the rest of the movie, rather heavy-handedly, does: turns out each program lives in the internal world of a computer, which is ruled by the cruel Master Control Program (David Warner, in another one of his cackling villain roles). Each program has its human counterpart in his programmer, and Bridges gets sucked inside a computer by the MCP to thwart his efforts at proving that he, rather than the subtly-named Dillinger (Warner again), wrote some of the most profitable programs of the early 80s. Though the visuals are admittedly original (courtesy of Syd Mead and Mobius, among others), they're also stunningly fake, plastic and undeniably retro; the colors are extremely odd and glowing, thanks to the decision to film in black-and-white and add color later. Meanwhile, Lisberger's total lack of narrative experience means that Tron awkwardly vacillates between a gladiator movie, a classic descent-into-subconscious hero saga (so heavyhanded, in fact, that the entire movie is plunged into darkness until the finale, when light fills the sky in the virtual and real world), and, worst of all, a war movie, complete with the nerdy guy (Dan Shor) who gets killed off early on. Still, all that needless heroism sure helps fan the flames of delusional fanboys, and I guess that's all you need to get to cult status. Awkward, unnervingly strange filmmaking, but definitely some sort of subcultural zeitgeist.
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